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Changes to the national curriculum: what to expect

A new version of the national curriculum (in place from September 2014) dictates what children in England learn at school, and when.

class school children

The national curriculum contains the programmes of study and attainment targets for all key subjects at English state primary and secondary schools (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own equivalents).


Why is it being changed?

According to the government, the national curriculum is being given an overhaul in a bid to allow England to catch up with "the world's best" education systems. The PM claims this "revolution in education" holds the key to the country's future prosperity.

New materials and guidance on teaching have been developed by organisations such as the National STEM centre, National Literacy Trust and Design and Technology Association.


Top 10 countries for education (Pearson)

  1. South Korea

  2. Japan
  3. Singapore
  4. Hong Kong
  5. Finland
  6. UK
  7. Canada
  8. Netherlands
  9. Ireland
  10. Poland

Whom does it affect?

All schools have to adhere to the national curriculum, with the exception of academies.

Academies operate outside of local authority control and can choose their own curriculum so long as it is broad and balanced - covering English, mathematics, science and religious education. Children in academies do still have to take part in national tests, however, including the key stage tests.


What's new to the curriculum?

Notable changes to the curriculum at each key stage are detailed below.

Key Stage 1 | Key Stage 2 | Key Stage 3 | Key Stage 4


KEY STAGE 1 (Years 1-2)



Mathematics and science

  • Five-year-olds will be expected to learn to count up to 100 (compared with 20 under the current curriculum) and learn number bonds to 20 (currently up to 10).
  • Simple fractions (eg 1/4 and 1/2) will be taught from KS1.
  • Evolution will be taught in primary schools for the first time.


  • There will be stronger emphasis on vocabulary development, grammar, punctuation and spelling (eg, the use of commas and apostrophes will be taught in KS1).
  • Handwriting (not currently assessed under the national curriculum) is expected to be fluent, legible and speedy.

Design, technology and ICT

  • Computing replaces Information and Communication Technology (ICT), with a greater focus on programming rather than on operating programs.
  • From age five, children will learn to write and test simple programs, and to organise, store and retrieve data.
  • Internet safety (currently only taught from ages 11-16) will be taught in primary school.


  • Year 1 - Phonics screening check
  • Year 2 – Teacher assessments in English, maths and science


KEY STAGE 2 (Years 3 - 6)



Mathematics and science

  • By the end of primary school, children should be able to convert decimal fractions to simple fractions.
  • By the age of nine, children will be expected to know times tables up to 12x12 (currently 10x10 by the end of primary school).
  • Calculators will not be introduced until near the end of KS2, to encourage mental arithmetic.
  • There will be a strong focus on scientific knowledge and language, rather than understanding the nature and methods of science in abstract terms.


  • By age eight, children should be able to use a dictionary to look up meanings of words.
  • By age 11, children should be able to spell 200 complex words - including mischievous, privilege and yacht - and use a thesaurus to develop vocabulary.

Design, technology and ICT

  • From age seven, children will be taught to understand computer networks, including the internet.
  • In KS2 they will learn about how key events and individuals in design and technology have shaped the world.
  • By age 11 children should have knowledge of mechanical systems such as gears, pulleys, cams and levers and building circuits incorporating switches, bulbs, buzzers and motors.


  • A modern foreign language (French, Spanish, German, Italian, Mandarin or Japanese) or ancient language (Latin or Greek) will be mandatory in KS2 - at the moment it isn't.


  • Year 6 – National tests and teacher assessments in English, maths and science


KEY STAGE 3 (Years 7 – 9)



Mathematics and science

  • By KS3, children should be able to use probability, reasoning with algebra and geometry.
  • By age 11, children should know the importance of diet and exercise and the effect of drugs.
  • By age 14, children should be familiar with human reproduction, the periodic table and climate change.


  • Spoken English has a greater emphasis, and children will be taught debating and presenting skills.
  • Students will study two Shakespeare plays (only one at present) as well as pre-1914 literature and two authors each year.
  • By KS3, children should be able to write accurately, fluently and effectively for the purpose of planning, drafting, editing and proof-reading their work.

 Design, technology and ICT

  • By KS3, children will have a more sophisticated use of design equipment, such as 3D printers, laser cutters, electronics and robotics.
  • They will have the ability to code and solve practical computer problems.


  • By KS3, children will be expected to master basic grammar and accurate pronunciation and to converse, present, read and write in the foreign language.


  • Year 7 – Teacher assessments
  • Year 8 – Teacher assessments
  • Year 9 – Teacher assessments


KEY STAGE 4 (Years 10 – 11)



NB: Changes to the KS4 curriculum will be taking place from September 2015.

Mathematics and science

  • Greater emphasis on solving mathematical problems that require multi-step solutions.
  • New topics to be covered including ratios and proportions.
  • Students will be expected to learn key mathematical formulae by heart.
  • Science will cover new content, including the human genome, life cycle analysis and space physics.
  • Science GCSEs will be more mathematically challenging.


  • English language students will be expected to read a wide range of texts - there will be no set texts.
  • Greater emphasis will be put on accuracy in spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  • English literature will no longer be compulsory and focus on four areas of classic literature. It will encourage more critical reading and writing, with assessment on unseen texts.


  • Students should be able to communicate confidently and coherently with native speakers in speech and writing and be able to express and develop thoughts and ideas spontaneously and fluently.
  • They will be expected to use language for a variety of purposes with a variety of different audiences. Contexts will cover identity and culture; local, national and international areas of interest, and current and future study and employment.


  • Year 11 - GCSEs or other national qualifications

A new grading scale of numbers one to nine will be used to identify performance levels. All assessment will take place at the end of the course and content will not be divided into modules.



Last updated: over 3 years ago